Pope Francis insisted that individual conscience be the guiding principle for Catholics negotiating the complexities of sex, marriage and family life in a major document released today that rejects the emphasis on black and white rules for the faithful.
In the 256-page document “The Joy of Love,” Francis makes no change in church doctrine. But in selectively citing his predecessors and emphasising his own teachings, Francis makes clear that he wants nothing short of a revolution in the way priests accompany Catholics, saying the church must no longer sit in judgment and “throw stones” against those who fail to live up to the Gospel’s ideals of marriage and family life.
“I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion,” he wrote. “But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness.”
On thorny issues such as contraception, Francis stressed that a couple’s individual conscience, not dogmatic rules imposed across the board, must guide their decisions and the church’s pastoral practice.
“We have been called to form consciences, not replace to them,” he said. He insisted the church’s aim is to reintegrate and welcome all its members. He called for a new language to help Catholic families cope with today’s problems. And he said pastors must take into account mitigating factors, fear, ignorance, habits and duress, in counseling Catholics who simply aren’t perfect.
“It can no longer simply be said that all those in any irregular situations are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace,” he wrote.
Even those in an “objective situation of sin” can be in a state of grace, and can even be more pleasing to God by trying to improve, he said.
The document’s release marks the culmination of a divisive two-year consultation of ordinary Catholics and the church hierarchy that Francis initiated in hopes of understanding the problems facing Catholic families today and providing them with better pastoral care.